Mar 8th, 2016
Category: Fitness advice
Coaches and Athletic trainers are often asked about the safety and effectiveness of strength training and weight training programs for adolescents. For the purposes of this article, an adolescent is defined as a young person between puberty and adulthood, generally age 12 or 13 to age 17.
While a definitive answer should be explored and discussed with the adolescent’s Pediatrician, generally speaking, strength and weight training programs are effective for improving sports and athletic performance IF properly designed and supervised. While activity and exercise should be encouraged at any age, specific training for strength with weights should not be encouraged until after puberty once maximal bone length is reached.
Young people of any age who want to improve sports specific performance will benefit most from practicing and perfecting those skills of their sport rather than from strength training. As an example, a soccer player should practice for speed, agility and ball handling, a tennis player should practice his or her serve, etc. Supervised dance, baseball, swimming, gymnastics, speed and agility, and most specific sports skills are generally considered safe at any age if the child is willing to participate, but most Pediatricians will agree that prepubertal youngsters lack the skeletal maturity to safely participate in strength and weight training.
When your teenager reaches 12-13 years of age and begins to show an interest in strength and weight training or is being encouraged by an Athletic Trainer or Coach, he or she should undergo a medical evaluation before beginning a formal strength-training program. We live in a world where once healthy children now suffer from obesity, high blood pressure and chronic disease. An evaluation conducted by a Clinician can help identify these medical conditions as well as risk factors for injury or any previous injuries.
Once medically cleared, parents, athletes and trainers can work together to develop training goals and discuss available techniques, and expectations. When designing the strength training program it's important to remember that most strength-training equipment and machines are designed for adults and have weight increments that are too large for new, adolescent trainees. This potential hazard can be avoided by using free weights like dumbbells and unloaded barbells which allow for smaller weight increments and resistance. Free weights also require stabilization and additional balance control that recruits more muscle groups and the core stabilizers.
Start the initial strength-training program with free weights, body weight and elastic bands or tubing. Once the young athlete gains experience and strength, advance to machines and racks. Focus on full-body and multi-joint exercises that work and strengthen the major muscle groups and avoid isolation exercises that work individual muscles.
While the specific number of set and repetitions, the form of resistance and the workout frequency are determined by specific training goals, the beginner adolescent athlete should generally perform one set of 8-10 repetitions of each exercise two times each week with a maximum of three days per week with alternating “rest” days. The program should always be supervised and the number of sets, reps and resistance (weight) should only be incrementally increased by the Coach or Trainer.